The government is considering the forced quarantine of persons suspected of having COVID-19 on a case-to-case basis, since home quarantine may not be effective in poor households, the chief implementor of the national action plan against the new coronavirus said Wednesday.
In a radio interview, Presidential Peace Advisor Carlito Galvez Jr., said the current home quarantine being practiced is not effective to control the spread of the virus, especially in poor communities where space is limited for social distancing.
He said forced quarantine could be implemented if the number of confirmed cases of infection doesn't decline in the coming days.
Galvez said the government is taking the “detect-isolate-treat” approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“An infected person becomes a threat to the general public when he or she is mobile and not isolated, and becomes a carrier of the disease,” Galvez said.
This is the reason the national task force on COVID-19 has adopted a “carrier-centric” approach which aims to detect, isolate and treat infected patients so they can be cured of the disease and return to their communities as soon as possible.
Galvez said that in isolating disease carriers, they have to designate government-dedicated treatment facilities for COVID-19, while patients under investigation or PUIs need to be taken to converted isolation centers for closer monitoring.
Galvez said it is important that health workers look into suspected cases and observe them to see if they show symptoms of the disease so they can be treated right away.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said the the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 has not discussed plans for the forced quarantine of persons suspected of having the virus.
"No such plans for a forced internment have been discussed in the IATF," Guevarra, a member of the IATF said, in a message to reporters.
"What has been discussed is the conversion of certain big structures and buildings like the PICC when regular hospitals reach their maximum room capacity," he added.
Guevarra stressed that LGUs have also been required to provide quarantine or isolation centers in their respective jurisdictions to address the needs of families with not enough space in their homes.
Reports earlier said the government is mulling a "massive forced quarantine" of persons who are either under investigation or monitoring for COVID-19 if the number of cases does not decrease in the coming days.
The proposal could be done on a case-to-case basis, as some may be able to effectively isolate themselves at home.
There were also suggestion that the government may extend the community quarantine period in "some affected areas."
Meanwhile, a National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) official said the agency can initiate investigations into possible violations of community quarantine rules even without filed complaints.
"Director [Eric] Distor ordered last March 31 all the operating units of NBI to conduct investigations on possible violations of the community quarantine," NBI Deputy Director Ferdinand Lavin said.
President Rodrigo Duterte told Congress in a report dated March 30, a day before Distor issued his order, that the NBI was going after local officials who defied quarantine guidelines set by the national government.
In Duterte's first weekly report to Congress pursuant to the new law giving him additional powers to deal with the COVID-19 emergency, he said the NBI is investigating and filing charges.
“The NBI is investigating and filing charges against local government officials who willfully disregard, contravene, or violate national guidelines on community quarantine set by the IATF-EID [Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases],” the President's report stated.
According to the Philippine National Police, 71,540 people have violated quarantine guidelines between March 17 and 30.
PNP data showed 39,866 of these individuals were from Luzon, while the rest were from Visayas and Mindanao.
The entire island of Luzon has been placed under a lockdown as authorities try to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Also on Wednesdy, Senator Panfilo Lacson chided the administration for a lack of planning and coordination in using the new law passed to deal with the health emergency.
"They knew beforehand what they wanted to ask from Congress. When we gave it to them in a record time of 18 hours, apparently they were not prepared to execute," said Lacson, a member Joint Congressional Oversight Committee, made up of four senators and four congressmen.
Lacson assailed the apparent absence of a smooth and expeditious implementation of the new law.
The lack of foresight in this regard, Lacson said , is obviously causing the delays of help to the poor Filipinos.
At the same time, Senator Grace Poe said taking care of the elderly must be the top priority of every local government unit.
Kept at home due to the enhanced community quarantine, senior citizens, especially those living on their own, should regularly receive food packs, potable water and essential supplies to sustain them for the quarantine period.
"If they need medicines, like their maintenance drugs, someone from the barangay should buy these for them,” she said. “Those who need check-ups or treatment should be given transportation by the local government unit to the hospital or clinic.”
She also said assistance should also reach them, especially these days when they cannot go out to withdraw from banks or ATMs, or receive remittances from their children.
In related developments:
• The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) blamed corrupt local government officials and political rivalry between mayors and barangay chiefs for the confusion and unfair distribution of relief
while Luzon and other parts of the country are under the enhanced communtiy quarantine to stop the COVID-19 outbreak. The group said poor families must bear the burden of inefficient local government
leadership and deep-seated political rivalry between mayors and barangay chiefs, at a time when they desperately need government help.
• The Palace hit back at opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, who criticized the government response thus far to the COVID-19 outbreak, saying there were no concrete plans in the President’s address to the nation. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, however, said the 18-page report submitted to Congress detailed the actions undertaken by the executive branch to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.